Dog Whistle Politics
Dogs can hear higher frequencies than humans, so when you blow on a dog whistle you can’t hear anything, but the dog can. The Right has been using dog whistles for decades, but this frequency can only be heard by racists. They know they can no longer be out front with their racism; the greater American consciousness has evolved beyond that, so they have to use code. I’ll give you a really good example of how this works: In 1979, Ronald Reagan kicked off his Presidential campaign in the tiny burg of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Why there? Why not some major metropolis like Los Angeles or Chicago? Because it was here that three civil rights workers were killed in 1964. Reagan was telling Southerners Hey, I’m one of you guys.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama was winning the hearts and minds of Americans with his confident, articulate speeches. Fox News, the official propaganda arm of the Right, called him arrogant, which is code for “uppity”, but of course they couldn’t say that. In that same election year, a young, black Tennessee congressman named Harold Ford, Jr., was running for re-election. He had a bit of a reputation for partying, so his opponent ran an ad showing a bunch of young people at a party. A young white woman approached the camera, made the hand sign with thumb and little finger extended near her ear, and said, “Harold, call me!”. Get it? Black man, white woman. It’s a standard old stereotype. Ford lost the election.
This is the essence of the birther movement. He wasn’t born here, he’s not like us, he is the “Other”. Extreme conservatives hate and fear anyone different than themselves, like black people, brown people, secular people, and especially now, those Muslims. They must all be marginalized, even demonized. When we saw those people at the Tea Party rallies yelling, “I want my country back!”, they meant back to when a black man knew his place, and that place was not the WHITE House. When Obama was elected, the Right completely lost their minds.
In early 2009 his team was launching what would become the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it’s now known. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said, “If we can stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” What was really being said went right over my head at the time. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming; we had one black person in that town, he was a “bootblack” at one of the local hotels. Racism there was confined to Native Americans, or the few Mexicans who lived in the area. I’d never heard of the practice of slave-breaking.
When a slave owner had someone who was being difficult – – uppity, you might say – – he was sent to a slave-breaker for an attitude adjustment. I will leave the details to your imagination. The noted black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, was sent to stay for awhile with a notorious slave-breaker named Bill Cubby, who lived in a house in Virginia still called Mt. Misery. DeMint chose that word “break” quite deliberately.
I believe Southerners’ obsession with the Confederate flag is a form of dog whistle. The current explosion of new voter ID laws is a form of dog whistle politics. The flimsy pretext of preventing voter fraud is a favorite bugaboo of the Right. It’s virtually non-existent, but the Right knows that the fewer people who vote, the better their chances are. Voter ID laws disproportionately affect the elderly, the poor, and minorities, all groups who tend to vote for Democrats. But black voters are by far the most disadvantaged, making these laws a new form of the old poll tax, as few states offer these official ID cards free.
I suppose it was naïve of me to think that the election of the first black President marked a giant step towards post-racism. Maybe it did, but it also brought to the surface this country’s deep-seated racism. Think of it as lancing a boil – – there’s all this poisonous blood, pus, and stink, but now it’s out in the open, and the body politic can begin to heal. Great thanks to Thom Hartmann, author and radio host, for educating me on this practice.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” – – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis